Iran tested a ballistic missile last month, a US official said Tuesday, describing the second such test since the nuclear agreement in July. The State Department said it was conducting a “serious review” of such reports.
The test occurred November 21, according to the official, coming after an October 10 test that Iran confirmed at the time. The official said other undeclared tests occurred earlier than that, but declined to elaborate.
Ballistic missiles are especially sensitive with Iran because they could provide the delivery system for a nuclear warhead. As part of nuclear negotiations with world powers, Iran accepted an eight-year extension of a UN ban on its ballistic missile program.
The November test was first reported by Fox News, which said a mid-range missile with a range of 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) was launched from a known site near the Gulf of Oman.
The test may reflect an effort by Iranian hardliners to derail the nuclear pact, coming on top of the recent arrests of an American citizen and US resident and reports that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was sentenced to an unspecified prison term following an espionage conviction.
According to the official, the US assesses that hardliners opposing the nuclear deal struck by Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani may be trying to provoke the United States into authorizing new sanctions against Iran and raising tensions between Washington and Tehran. Top Iranian officials have vowed to respond to any new forms of economic pressure from the West.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said later that the United States was reviewing and seeking to confirm the reports on the Iranian missile test.
“The US is conducting a serious review of the reported incident,” Power told reporters after a meeting of the Security Council on unrelated issues, according to Rueters.
Power added that if the reports were confirmed, the US would bring the issue to the 15-nation council and seek appropriate action.
State Department spokesman John Kirby, on his part, refused to confirm the test.
“We’re conducting a serious review of this reported incident,” Kirby told reporters. He added, “If the reports are confirmed and if there is a violation of any relevant UN Security Council resolution, then we’re going to take the appropriations actions.”
He stressed that ballistic missile activity wasn’t a violation of the July deal that imposed more than a decade of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in potential relief from international sanctions. He said the US would monitor Tehran for “destabilizing” behavior, and that is “why we have a robust military presence in the region, and it’s why we still have and will remain capable of having unilateral sanctions.”
After the October test, President Barack Obama noted that Iran has often violated missile prohibitions. He said the US would make clear to Iran that there are costs for bad behavior, but stressed that the issue was separate from nuclear arms control.
On November 24, the US, Britain and France pressed Iran for a formal explanation at the United Nations.
In Washington, the administration is still studying a possible response of its own.
Officials with knowledge of the process said the Iranian individuals and organizations involved with the test are already penalized under American sanctions law, and said the government was still identifying potential targets.
Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Obama administration’s lack of response to Iran’s “repeated ballistic missile tests.” Iran, he said Tuesday, “knows neither this administration nor the UN Security Council is likely to take any action.”